On June 25, 2015, Coastal Hills Rural Preservation filed an appeal with the State Court of Appeal in San Francisco, asking the Court to overturn a Sonoma County permit decision that allows expansion of an industrial-scale printing operation at Ratna Ling Retreat in Cazadero. This appeal would also overturn a recent Superior Court decision.
A legal brief and attachments were filed by PROVENCHER & FIATT LLP, Janis H. Grattan attorney for Coastal Hills Rural Preservation on September 25, 2015.
In her introduction to Appellate Court Case No. A145573 (see link to full brief below); Ms. Grattan states:
This appeal concerns a conflict between rural land use policies and a large industrial expansion proposed by a religious entity. Petitioner/appellant Coastal Hills Rural Preservation is a citizens group in the remote forested rural hills of Sonoma County. Real party in interest/respondent is Jack Petranker, an individual and The Head Lama of the Tibetan Nyingma Meditation Center, a corporation sole, a California nonprofit religious corporation (Petranker or Petranker/TNMC). (AA95) Petranker operates a Tibetan Buddhist monastery, retreat center and religious printing facility in the rural hills. This complex, founded in 2004, is Ratna Ling.
In 2014, respondent County of Sonoma approved a major expansion of Ratna Ling (the Project). The Project substantially increases the retreat operations, triples the press workers, doubles the press traffic, allows six presses instead of one, and authorizes 40,000 square feet of fabric membrane book storage structures (warehouses)—essentially a new project. The County allowed the printing and book storage expansion because of claims these are ‘accessory" uses integral to the Petranker/TNMC religious doctrine of making and worshipping Tibetan Buddhist books.
In 2004, Petitioner had not objected to the modest-scale religious press facility. However, the new Project was much larger and inconsistent with the rural setting and constraints. Petitioner brought a petition for writ of mandate alleging the County's approval of the Project contradicted Sonoma County's policies for Rural Resources and Development (RRD) land and violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Petitioner appeals from the denial of the petition.
The Project approval was in error on several grounds. The County granted special preference to a religious organization, in violation of Constitutional neutrality requirements. The massive industrial printing and storage operation would not be allowed in RRD land, according to the County's own words. (AR5986, 4755, 4124, 97, 4081-84) Yet the County allowed the storage structures by finding they were an "accessory" religious use, and it granted this use exclusively to a Tibetan Buddhist landowner. (AR51, 62)
As our State copes with climate change, petitioner questions why the County approved massive fabric storage structures filled with paper and allowed a press facility producing over 350,000 books a year, in a high risk fire area. These industrial uses are contrary to General Plan land use policies that restrict development in fire prone areas. The County admits the fabric membrane structures are not compliant with Wildland-Urban Interface (Will) fire standards in a high fire severity area. (AA135, 10319, 7625) And the all-volunteer local Fire District states it has neither the equipment nor the training to respond to an industrial fire at the Project site. The County will point to a long (but incomplete) list of fire mitigation measures. But these measures do not get at the root of the problem: these industrial uses should be in an urban area with appropriate zoning and infrastructure, as the General Plan requires. The Project is inconsistent with the General Plan. Environmental review of the Project was also flawed, as discussed below.
Read the full text of this brief and subsequent filings by Coastal Hills Rural Preservation, the County of Sonoma, Ratna Ling Retreat and Jack Petranker at the links below.